New Village Arts setting up shop on ‘Avenue Q’

Until “The Book of Mormon” enthralled (and appalled) Broadway audiences starting in 2011, “Avenue Q” was probably the reigning champion of button-pushing humor in the musical-theater realm.

With its clutch of fuzzy puppets crooning such tunes as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn,” the show paired the cheery sensibility of a wholesome kids’ TV show with the vibe of a slightly skeezy late-night comedy club.

Now, nearly 15 years after “Avenue Q” hit Broadway — winning three Tony Awards, including best musical — New Village Arts Theatre is reviving the hit show. But this will be what director AJ Knox calls “an ‘Avenue Q’ for 2018.”

U-T Rewind: Check out our 2010 review of the touring “Avenue Q,” with background on the Broadway show

“A lot in our country has changed in the last 15 years,” says Knox, who’s also the Carlsbad theater’s director of connectivity. “And with that comes a change in the sense of humor.

“Comedy shifts really quickly. But one thing we’ve worked on is retaining the show’s irreverent, take-no-prisoners spirit, (while) kind of updating it.”

For example: In the wake of the #MeToo movement, “there are a handful of jokes, particularly jokes about sex and sexuality, that have taken on a different tone,” Knox says.

The focus at NVA has been on exploring how things are emphasized without changing the actual show. For example, Knox says, there’s an added note of empowerment to the character Lucy the Slut; she’s positioned as a tough, independent woman who’s bigger than the shame implicit in her name.

Of course, the show — whose score was co-written by the “Mormon” and “Frozen” whiz Bobby Lopez — still has its cheeky mix of humans and puppet characters (who are manipulated by fully visible actors onstage), from Kate Monster to Trekkie to the Bad Idea Bears.

Ciarlene Coleman, who’s playing the role of Christmas Eve, took on the same role last summer in a production at the Ocean Beach Theatre Co. — and has been an “Avenue Q” fan since long before that.

“When I first discovered the show, I found an emotional attachment to Christmas Eve, just because any representation of Asian females onstage was a win for me,” says Coleman, co-artistic director of the Filipino-American theater troupe MaArte Theatre Collective.

“And I loved that she was an Asian female character that was not the typical trope of the submissive, obedient, quiet Asian flower-woman. She was loud and funny, and still a well-rounded character. And that has always stood out to me with this show.”

At the same time, Coleman says, “obviously there are some jokes that have not aged well,” such as some of the accent humor: One of her character’s songs is titled “The More You Ruv Someone.”

But “because Christmas Eve’s character is developed and crafted far beyond the limitations of her accent, I really think the show and character are more than worth it.

“With good acting and direction and generally responsible theatermaking, the show can make up for the snags that come with it.”

‘Avenue Q’

When: Previews begin May 18. Opens May 25. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. (Schedule varies; check with theater.) Through July 1.

Where: New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Tickets: $43-$46 (discounts available)

Phone: (760) 433-3245


Twitter: @jimhebert